Courtesy Balwant Singhs brace India beat Macau 2-0 in AFC Asian Cup football qualifier

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New Delhi: In what was a big match for the Indian football team, 'super' substitute Balwant Singh came off the bench in the second half to find the net twice against Macau at the Macau Olympic Complex on Tuesday to extend an unbeaten streak to 11. With the score of 2-0, the team has bagged three more points to move closer to a place in the 2019 Asian Cup.

Striker Balwant struck twice in the second half, 57th minute and then 80th minute, to take India to 13 points in their group. Only three games old in his international career, the 30-year-old now has three goals in his last two matches. Making his international debut in 2010, the striker was recalled after seven years for his second game for India during the tri-nation series earlier this year. In that series, during a game against Mauritius, he struck a goal after replacing Robin Singh as a second-half substitute.

Coming back to Tuesday’s game, the Indian team failed to open its account in the first half of the game as the first 45 minutes ended at 0-0.

It seemed to be a rather a scrappy piece of football in the first half of the game as both teams struggled to find a mark in the game, although in different ways. Yes, the Blue Tigers did dominate all through the half, but failed to find the net, courtesy to some stellar defending by Macau. Despite their difficulty in snatching the ball from the table-toppers and taking the game forward, the hosts maintained a sturdy defence line, enough to keep the opposition skipper Sunil Chhetri at bay.

It was an all out one-sided 45 minutes with the Bengaluru FC striker getting maximum opportunity to make an impact on the game for India. And with Udanta Singh marking a return, the dominance was indeed top notch.

Team India's first chance came 12 minutes into the game when Narayan Das unleashed a cross but it failed to find any striker in the box as the ball flew straight into the hands of the Macau goalkeeper Ho Man Fai.

14 minutes later, skipper Chhetri struck a long range shot, 30 yards from the post, but it failed to find the net as the ball went well wide off it. A flurry of attacks then came from the Blue Tigers a few minutes later, with Eugeneson Lyndgoh going for yet another long-ranger, which deflected off the post, went to Jeje, but a low-impact short from the striker went straight into the keeper's gloves.

India's best chances had come in the dying minutes of the first half. Five minutes before closing in, Jeje had a real close opportunity to take the tourists into a 1-0 lead, but he failed to convert a Narayan cross as the ball spun off his head and went over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Chhetri found a phenomenal left-wing cross from Halicharan Narzary, but his effort was dismissed by a strong Macau defence line.

Macau's only shot at goal came off a free-kick in the first minute of the game when Jeje committed a foul just outside India's box, but the ball travelled well wide of the post.

The second half started with Lyndgoh being replaced by Balwant and surely Stephen Constantine was happy with his decision. 12 minutes into the second half of the game, Narayan curled in a stunner from the left-wing as Punjab-based striker Balwant leaped in high to strike the ball to the bottom right corner, well outside the reach of the keeper. And that was 1-0 for the Blue Tigers. There was a smile on Constantine's face. Well, the plan did pan out.

Two minutes later, the Mumbai City striker Balwant had found a wonderful opportunity to make it 2-0 for India, and two for himself too. Pritam Kotal curled in another to find Balwant, but the ball went just inches above the post.

10 minutes to full-time, Balwant found a free ball just outside the box and lobbed it over the keeper to take the lead to 2-0. It was a moment that looked like absolute shambles for the hosts. The Macau defenders looked in absolute dismay. Well, the long ball from keeper Gurpreet Singh did prove worthy enough for the striker. A piece of stat – 10 of their last 13 goals scored by Team India – had come in the second half of the game.

The second half did witness an immediate impact being made by Balwant. Macau's brilliance with their defence techniques in the first 45 minutes of the game saw a complete turnaround with the replacement of Lyndgoh and hence Balwant stepping in. Not one, there were several attempts, made by the striker, all missing by only a whisker.

Skipper Chhetri had also made an effort in his comeback match. Five minutes into the half, he struck a scintillating header which rattled against the inside edge of the post after the keeper made an attempt to save it. The ball deflected off the bar, hung in of a couple of seconds in the box, and Macau’s keeper Ho Man Fai leaped ahead to clutch onto it.

The Indian football team now has three wins from three games. Therefore, unlike the last time, when it did not qualify for the Asian Cup, this time around, the team stands a clear chance to qualify for the 2019 edition.

The next game for the Blue Tigers in the competition will be also against Macau, but this time at home, on October 12 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bangalore.

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